Setting the Record Straight on Dairy’s Sustainability Story

  • 3 min read April 9, 2024
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

I have always said that farmers are the original sustainability experts. When you rely on clean air and water, fertile soil and healthy livestock for your livelihood, you implement management practices that protect or enhance the environment.

Sustainability is very personal for dairy farmers. I remember as a child, my father made changes to the way we farmed our crop land by contour farming to better protect the Chesapeake Bay. Sustainability wasn’t a buzzword at that time. No one was pressuring him to change his practices. He did it because it was the right decision for the future of our farm and the natural resources we depend on.

It should be acknowledged that there are a lot of ways farmers can be sustainable. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Not every farmer is expected to implement every practice, but there are many options that can be customized to fit every farm.

Cost, of course, is an obvious challenge to implementation. Some practices are simple and relatively inexpensive to adopt, while others take years of planning and serious financial investment. We all understand how challenging farm financials are, and have been for some time, but it’s important that every farmer remember this is marathon, not a sprint. Consider it our journey of continuous improvement, which started with the generations that preceded us and will be carried forward by those who follow.

Being sustainable isn’t just good for the Earth; it’s also important to our bottom line. Consumers, who are increasingly removed from production agriculture, are taking a critical look at the products they purchase. Nearly one-third of consumers have stopped buying a product they believe has a negative impact on the environment.

This is why our dairy checkoff team is working hard to set the record straight on dairy’s sustainability story. Checkoff messages are reaching consumers with facts, science, and farmer stories to maintain or build their confidence in choosing dairy. The key is we have powerful stories and science on our side.

I love seeing the many great stories of our environmental stewardship shared with consumers. But storytelling alone won’t change a skeptical consumer’s mind. Backing these stories with facts and data makes a more compelling argument.

The checkoff’s “See Dairy Differently” campaign really resonates with me. We’re reaching thought leaders, such as college professors, media members and others who have strong influence in their line of work, with data, science and storytelling.

I hope dairy farmers are proud of and share this story in TIME Magazine that put a spotlight on dairy’s commitment to water conservation. That is a very impactful placement reaching thousands of readers, including those influential thought leaders.

The checkoff also is delivering dairy’s sustainability story and commitment to responsible production in other influential media outlets, including USA Today, VOX, Washington Post and Economist to name a few.

Our national and local outreach through our state and regional teams is telling a comprehensive story to consumers, who desire transparency and are seeking reassurance in the food system.

Consider sharing your story and production practices on your personal or farm social media account. Share with classes at your local school. Or invite folks out to see your farm first-hand. We all have a powerful story to tell. I challenge you all to join us in setting the record straight.